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Patent Office Director Michelle Lee On Patents And Innovation09:07
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Michelle Lee, director, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, discusses the opening of the first USPTO office in Silicon Valley at SanDisk's world headquarters in 2013.(Tony Avelar/AP Images for SanDisk Corporation)
Michelle Lee, director, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, discusses the opening of the first USPTO office in Silicon Valley at SanDisk's world headquarters in 2013.(Tony Avelar/AP Images for SanDisk Corporation)
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The US Patent and Trademark Office oversees more than 6 million patents today. The first one went to a Vermont farmer who figured out how to make potash, an agricultural fertilizer, back in 1790.

"It was that important to our founding fathers that we have a system that promoted American innovation," said Michelle Lee, director of the US Patent and Trademark Office. "And it's my understanding that the first patent examiner was Thomas Jefferson, who kept patents in a shoebox."

Lee is the first female to hold that position, overseeing an agency with 12,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $3 billion. She is an MIT-trained computer scientist, and returned to her alma mater to give a lecture, amidst growing debate about the need to reform the U.S. patent system.

Guest

Michelle Lee, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which tweets @uspto.

More

MIT Technology Review: The Jack of All Trademarks

  • "Now as the person in charge of the nation’s patent process, Lee is playing a key role in shaping policy that could have a big impact on future innovation."

This American Life: When Patents Attack

  • "Patents make it safe to share and to innovate. But today, lots of investors and innovators in Silicon Valley, maybe the majority, would tell you the patent system is doing the exact opposite of what it’s supposed to. It’s not promoting innovation. It’s stifling it. Because patent lawsuits are on the rise. Patent trolls are on the move."

This segment aired on March 31, 2016.

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